E558 ‘Barracuda’ Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Mariner

I suspect because ‘Deep Sea Master Mariner E558’ was a bit of a mouthful (brevity is lost on the Swiss), the watch you’re looking at goes by its nickname today: Barracuda. Things called Baracuda are inherently cool. Hemi Plymouths drag racing around Detroit in the 70s. Blancpain German military divers. And that song by Heart that goes ‘Ooo, Barracuda!, which brings back all kinds of memories. In the case of JLC, it’s one of their most obscure models ever, short lived and made in small numbers. 1532 examples to be precise, ever. For every ten stories you’ll read on the illustrious history of JLC’s more complicated Deep Sea Alarm or Polaris, you’ll find maybe one forum post from 2011 on the Barracuda. It amazes me that many who can tell a 5512 from a 5513 will not even be aware this more characterful alternative exists.

The Master Mariner line started here with Piquerez compressor cases, powered by JLC’s K883 automatic (complete with fausse cote decoration, JLC can’t help themselves). The watch was water resistant to a depth of 200m, on equal footing with Subs and Seamasters of the era. It features a date and the ever enjoyable inner-rotation 60-minute bezel operated by the crown at 2. Otherwise, it’s quite straightforward. I suspect because the compressor case you see here was also used in a few other brands, such as IWC’s 816, the model lost a bit of identity in the years following release as compared to the early Deep Sea Alarms or Polari. They’re simply gorgeous 70s divers, however, and somehow not at all silly money yet today.


Does it make any sense that a great IWC 812 will trade hands around 20K today and this is effectively half off despite coming from the Grande Maison? You could say that’s a circular case vs this more muscular 70s proportion, but comparably angular and very 70s Zenith cases sell often for more than their round counterparts. It’s can’t be that alone, surely. No, I suspect the Master Mariner is a value today simply because very few know they exist; you can’t search for a watch you’ve never heard of. Hairspring readers are a very tiny, avid corner of the watch market, but that’s what we’re here for (the IWC 816 is worth a look as well).

This example is made by its case, these angular 70s designs loose all sense of shape when polished. This one, thankfully, isn’t. The dial is well-preserved, with cream tritium. It should be noted that it’s often the case on these that the hands and dial can age in slightly different tones, you’ll see many examples where they don’t quite match. While that will raise automatic alarm bells for many, that’s just how a lot of these are. It comes on a JB Champion with a similar vintage feel from a well-regarded Florida retailer.